As the Republican-controlled Supreme Court gets to work writing its opinion on the Affordable Care Act -- with many observers expecting that the five GOP justices will strike the law down -- it's worth recalling how a similar batch of Republican justices twisted the Constitution to hand George W. Bush the White House in December 2000.
It's also interesting to remember how the opinion leaders of Washington prepped the American people to accept the undemocratic outcome of Bush's "victory" over Al Gore, rather than insist that all Florida ballots be counted and demand that Republican leaders desist from sending mobs to Florida to intimidate vote counters.
In fall 2000, to take such pro-democracy positions earned you epithets like "Gore apologist" or "Democratic partisan." Though Bush's campaign was sponsoring the organized mobs and rushing to court to block recounts, "responsible journalists" were adopting the hackneyed position that both sides were equally at fault.
The conventional wisdom was that Bush should just be declared president for "the good of the country."
For instance, after a GOP mob disrupted the Miami recount just before Thanksgiving Day, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote: "Given the present bitterness, given the angry irresponsible charges being hurled by both camps, the nation will be in dire need of a conciliator, a likable guy who will make things better and not worse. That man is not Al Gore. That man is George W. Bush."
In a similar vein, after Bush won some lower state court rulings blocking the recounts, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman expressed the view of many mainstream journalists, welcoming the likely declaration of Bush as the "winner."
"Slowly but surely, in their own ways, the different courts seem to be building a foundation of legitimacy for Governor George W. Bush's narrow victory," Friedman wrote. "That is hugely important. Our democracy has taken a hit here, and both Democrats and Republicans must think about how they can start shoring it up."
It didn't strike Friedman or most other big-name pundits that perhaps the best way to shore up "our democracy" was to let all the legal votes in Florida be counted and declare whoever ended up on top the winner.
A Disastrous Presidency
In retrospect -- knowing how disastrous Bush's eight years in office were for the United States and the world -- you might have thought that these Washington "wise men" would have worried about the prospect of handing such an inexperienced person the most powerful position on earth, especially under a cloud of electoral fraud.
But Official Washington's thinking was that the likes of Richard Cohen and Thomas Friedman could simply assert Bush's "legitimacy" by delegitimizing those who thought that a core principle of democracy was for the voters to decide who should lead.
The elitist attitude would be a troubling preview to how the mainstream media would perform two years later by embracing Bush's false claims about Iraq's WMD and rallying the nation to an unprovoked invasion of a country at peace.
However, in fall 2000, this smugness about knowing better than the American voters who should be President represented the atmospherics around the U.S. Supreme Court battle titled Bush v. Gore. Official Washington was overwhelmingly for Bush and those few idealists who believed in that messy process called democracy were supposed to stand down.
So, Bush had a powerful tail wind when he took his anti-recount fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, after the Florida Supreme Court on Dec. 8 ordered a statewide examination of disqualified votes to see if the ballots had been kicked out by counting machines incorrectly.
In its ruling on the recount issue, the state court hewed to the principle that the right of voters to have their votes counted -- when their intent could be clearly discerned -- trumped legal technicalities that Bush and Republican state officials had cited in opposing a recount.
Bush rushed to the federal courts seeking an injunction to block a resumption of the recounts, claiming he might suffer "irreparable injury" if the vote-counting resumed. The conservative U.S. Appeals Court in Atlanta threw out Bush's laughable claim, but Bush knew he had an ace in the hole, the Republican-controlled U.S. Supreme Court.
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